Challenges of the 5D BIM implementation

Challenges of the 5D BIM implementation

The construction project, in general, is a product of defined quality built within an optimal time frame using available resources as in any other industry, so its success depends on controlling the costs during the execution period (schedule).

Considering the usual dynamics of construction projects, the latest tendencies suggest that the best way to control and plan these processes is to do it in an integrated way. This could be achieved through LEAN project planning and 5D BIM analyses, but achieving it is often a complex and time-consuming process. It requires all steps from the early design phase to execution to be strictly pre-defined, heavily modified and coordinated. It often implies adopting a certain standardized system, which has to be implemented by all stakeholders, and that often proves difficult. Project planning and cost management are generally complex tasks, and integrating them into 5D simulation, even with the most modern software tools, is challenging and requires a huge amount of data and working hours to execute properly. So, in short, we know the right way of doing things but don’t have the proper tools to achieve set goals with reasonable resources.

As a result of this imbalance between aspirations and capabilities, productivity rates in our industry have stagnated for decades and are seriously falling behind other industries. It seems like construction is unable to utilize the advantages of technology development like in other sectors and still heavily relies on costly, time-consuming manual processes and low levels of automation, especially within the planning and organization processes. Digitalization in construction only brings new digital tools, but as of now, processes still need to be more efficient than before.

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Is there a better way?

If we want to make a difference and reach significant improvement, we have to re-invent the complete project management process. We have to rely on best practices and knowledge base, use already available data in the most efficient way and to simplify processes and base it on commonly accepted premises in the industry. We, as an industry, have to improve knowledge management and knowledge transfer, automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks, and focus on planning and organization principles. This approach leaves room for creativity, flexibility, and innovation, and the final result would be a constant improvement and higher efficiency. Since an integrated 5D environment is one of the most efficient tools for project control, we have to find a way to simplify it and base it on available sets of data and commonly accepted premises.

The next generation of project management

Widespread implementation of BIM (Building Information Modeling) and successful adoption of common construction logic by most authoring construction software tools, as well as the immense contribution of professional associations like building SMART International in standardization and interoperability of processes within BIM, allowed us to develop whole new project management concepts. We can now base project organization on general premises without the need to fully implement a specific standardized system. The idea is to allow project managers to create integrated 5D simulations without the need to significantly predefine information integrated into the central BIM model and to rely mostly on available data and common construction logic widely accepted within the industry. Using the BEXEL Manager software suite, this could be achieved in an incredibly short time with a handful of resources and five general steps described below.

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Step 1: Automatic Quantity Takeoff generation

In order to simplify the process of quantity control and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) creation and yet keep it detailed enough to give us the needed level of control, we need to adopt and use information from previous project phases since requiring substantial modification of previous phases implicates re-work, and often demotivates team for BIM implementation. If we analyze WBS and QTO (Quantity Takeoff), we can notice that their structure relies on some basic principles that are pretty intuitive and commonly accepted within the industry regardless of market and type of construction project.

Works are generally separated into four main groups (Structural works, Architectural works, MEP and Landscape and roads) simply because design work is separated by disciplines, and the following project phases just follow that logic.

Building elements are then sorted by their function or type, and this logic is also followed in software authoring tools with IFC types or element categories (foundations, walls, slabs, columns, windows, conduits, etc.), which give an additional level of organization.

At the lowest level of organization, project elements are sorted by materials and detailed parameters defined by designers.

Suppose we translate this logic into a BIM environment. In that case, design work is separated by disciplines, with different sources of central federated BIM model, model elements are organized in specific categories (IFC types) within the authoring tool, and at the lowest level of organization, elements are categorized in families defined by designers. So, the logical organizational structure for QTO on the project could be based on these existing parameters with no need for full implementation of specific standardization or coding system. We just need a proper software tool to allow us to utilize these general parameters.

Step 2: Smart Cost Classification creation and adjustments

Similar to the traditional process, after developing QTO, the next step is to develop a cost database. BEXEL Manager platform allows the further use of created QTO as a WBS basis to automatically generate Cost Classification, with a structure that follows the described general organization based on available data. The created Cost structure could be adjusted and fine-tuned to a certain level, but practically 90% of the project cost structure is defined automatically without the need for additional information or a standardization system. Such an approach gives the user the opportunity to create and enrich its own properly structured Cost Classification adding cost and resources information to automatically created database and re-use it in future projects.

Step 3: Auto-assign process and linking cost items with model elements

Since the QTO (WBS) structure and Cost Classification based on it are created and fine-tuned, the user is able to initiate the Auto-assign process, which links newly created cost items with actual BIM model elements. With the set of automatically created rules, a smart cost management engine links model elements to appropriate cost items. Based on existing parameters, a smart computer engine creates element queries (rules) that link Cost Items defined in Cost Classification with corresponding model elements. In this way, all future changes and updates of the project will be automatically reflected in the cost structure.

Step 4: Defining inputs for automatic schedule creation

Defining the construction schedule or 4th dimension (time) of the project might be even more challenging than the 5th (cost information). The project manager has to take into account construction process technology, organization of the construction site, contractor’s resources, and time frame defined by the investor. When it comes to construction planning, we can say that we have good practices and a vast knowledge base, we have BIM, and we have great project planning methods (LOB, flow-line schedule), but the amount of data and number of engineer hours needed for proper implementation are still incredibly high. Therefore, the general approach to scheduling is usually simplified, which leads to a significant reduction in precision and bad project performance.
In order to overcome these obstacles, we have to turn on advancements in computing technology, capture expert logic, and utilize it through IT. We have to combine the knowledge, experience, and creativity of planning professionals with massive computing power and big data management and adopt the “human-machine teaming” concept into project scheduling in order to make it more efficient.

But what does that mean in practice?

It means full automation of repetitive, time-consuming tasks in project planning and giving professionals the opportunity to define the logic and structure of the construction process and leave the actual repetitive process of schedule generation to a computer algorithm.

In order to automate the process, first, you need to analyze it and identify patterns upon which the process is based. Construction planning, in general, represents the organization of works, or to simplify it, the spatial distribution of works (labelled Creation Zones in software) and construction work sequence (defined as Creation Methodology).

Spatial distribution of works (Creation Zones) is something that could be considered as a universally adopted principle in construction. Every construction project in the world is “divided” into smaller organizational units. In the classic scheduling process, it is necessary to recreate this logical organization over and over for every single part of a schedule and to define relations between every single unit. For large-scale projects, this could lead to a gargantuan schedule with a large number of tasks that have to be properly defined and interconnected to work. In reality, project managers often just simplify schedule structure and segregate works into larger groups and larger spatial zones, which, in the end, leads to underdeveloped schedules.

But, with BEXEL Manager intelligent scheduling engine, this could be improved. This new way of schedule creation gives the project manager an opportunity to define the principles and logic of the schedule, and final tasks and relations are generated by computer algorithm.

When it comes to the spatial organization of a construction project it is most commonly defined as horizontal and vertical.

By horizontal organization, we consider commonly accepted and intuitive division of project into construction Blocks (for large-scale projects), individual Buildings and construction Phases (zones) as the smallest organizational units dimensioned in such a way as to allow for optimal distribution of project resources throughout construction (horizontal spatial zones more or less equal in size and resources needed for construction).

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Vertical spatial organization of the construction process is an even more intuitive division of the project to simple construction levels. The user only defines the sequence in which these levels are going to be built.

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Construction works sequence (Creation Methodology) is basically a definition of relations and sequence of execution of work categories as defined in the project Cost Classification structure. When it comes to “sequencing”, the majority of construction projects follow certain universal rules. Of course, different interdependencies exist in infrastructure projects compared to high-rise for example, but they follow some usual roadmap within a single large group of projects (highway projects, railway projects, tunnelling, etc.). In fact, there is no need to define such logical relations every time on every project and every task in the project from the beginning, yet it might need some fine-tuning. It is time-consuming work that blurs a bigger picture of schedule parameters. BEXEL Manager smart scheduling engine allows the user to define this sequence for the whole project, creating relationships between different groups of works described in Cost Classification (the same Cost Classification that was automatically created in previous steps) through schedule Methodology definition.

So, after defining the spatial distribution of works and, working sequence, methodology, the user has defined all parameters needed for the automatic scheduling engine and completion of the integrated 5D analysis of the project.

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Step 5: Automated smart planning and optimization

After the previously mentioned elements are defined, the user only has to combine them in a proper sequence (Creation template) and initiate a smart scheduling engine. Based on defined spatial distribution and creation methodology (sequence of works), the computer algorithm automatically generates a construction schedule with a detailed structure and a large number of individual tasks completely integrated with project cost classification and linked to model elements. The created schedule consists of tasks for every activity in every construction phase (zone) on every floor within every building, with relations based on project manager inputs defined in previous steps.

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Additional step towards industry 4.0

Presented level of automation and improvement in overall project management efficiency and project control brings game-changing workflows in the construction industry and opens a way towards further automation and improved efficiency in construction. It represents pioneering steps in establishing a machine learning concept in construction. It allows for intelligent knowledge management and gives an opportunity for significant improvement in overall efficiency and higher added value in the construction industry. What was usually done in months and years now can be done in a matter of days and weeks with improved accuracy. It represents a true platform for Lean Construction Management and brings construction closer to Industry 4.0.